October 21, 2019, Israel,
This morning marked the last day of the Jewish holiday season in Israel. As I was walking up the road to the synagogue I contemplated the words I would be reading today from the Torah scroll. I "wrote" the blog in my head this morning during that walk. Now I am only transcribing it.
Today we will begin with the ending of Moshe's life, bitter sweet. As my name is the same as his, I always view his life in a rather personal way, with messages and lessons for myself.
Moshe can look back upon a life of challenges met, trials and tribulations overcome. He rose to become a leader, he led a nation of slaves through the desert, he formed them into a free people, he formed a close relationship with God, he trained an appropriate leader to succeed him, and now he is ready to depart from this life, forever known as Moshe Rabeinu, Moses our Teacher. There shall never be a man like him.
The text reads..."This is the blessing which Moshe the man of God blessed the Children of Israel before his death." (Deuteronomy, 33:1)
And I contemplated the words...before his death, what is actually being said here? On one hand it is obvious that he blessed them before he died and not after he died. On the other hand it could be to tell us the proximity of the blessing to his imminent death.
So I thought, the great Moshe, about to depart from this world, wants to give his people, his nation, his flock that he has lead so faithfully for so many years, one more blessing. He has given them his life, he has devoted everything to them, and now, just before he must depart, he wants to give one them one more blessing like a parent wanting to kiss the children one more time before a journey.
There is a statement here, a powerful statement, about life. Is your life about taking or about giving? Some people, upon knowing that their death is imminent, want to fulfil their "bucket list". They want to do something for themselves, which is of course understandable. But Moshe, no, his sadness is not for himself. He is not thinking about the things of this life that he will be missing, no, he is thinking that he will miss being able to bless his people. So before he dies, he wants this pleasure one more time, one more opportunity to bless his people, one more time to look at them with love and guide them. This reminds me of the story of Yosele the Holy Miser of Krakow, Poland. When the rabbi met him in a dream, Yosele, who had pretended his whole life to be a stingy miser but in fact had secretly helped many poor people, missed only one thing of this earthly life. He yearned for one more Thursday morning where he could secretly slip envelopes full of cash under the doors of poor Jews, so that they may enjoy the Sabbath with all the traditional foods. He yearned to bless his people, one last time, with his love and generosity.
Who is like Thy Nation Israel, one holy nation on this earth! (Chronicles, Book 1, Chapter 17)
We ponder the question; how much should we take from this world? The rabbis say that one should leave this world with a credit, rather than a debit. i.e. you gave more than you took.
When I thought about buying a couch for my home, I wondered if I really needed this comfort. I consulted a rabbi. He gave the matter some thought and said, there are those who wish to take nothing from this world, like a Nazarene, but one is also commanded to enjoy the blessings of this earth. I decided to purchase the furniture on the grounds that my parents should have someplace comfortable to sit when they visit me.
How much should one take and how much should one give? And Moshe the man of God blessed the people....and I think as I walk.
I look upon the land, our land, which our people dreamed off for close to 2,000 years while suffering under the yolk of the nations, and I realize I am privileged to walk in the land where even Moshe was denied entrance. And he blessed us, though his life was full of challenges.
Moshe blessed us before his death, and it is important to point out that this blessing indeed took place before his death, as to distinguish it from blessings with which we were blessed after his death. For while some offer nothing during their lives, others offer blessings not only during their lives but also after their physical lives.
Moshe blessed us after his life as well; with guidelines, with a personal example of leadership. Moshe stood up for the downtrodden Hebrew slave who was being beaten by an Egyptian. Moshe intervened when he saw two Hebrew men quarrelling, and he rebuked them. Moshe judged the people from morning until night until his father in law, Jethro, advised him to take some assistants. Moshe took nothing, "I have not taken one donkey from them, nor have I harmed any of them"(Numbers 16, 15)
Will our life be a blessing? Will our life have an impact on the world? And Moshe the man of God blessed the people...and then he passed from this world at the age of 120 years, his strength had not diminished, his vigor was in tact.
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